PR NatWest (and vegans) weren’t banking on

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NatWest have hit the headlines after a call centre worker told a vegan caller that ‘vegans should be punched’.

It proves that PR isn’t just about the Comms Team or higher management; it goes right the way through an organisation. The impact of this single call handler has caused headlines across the country, and banks have a hard enough time getting people to trust them as it is.

Having done the almost-obligatory call centre stint myself (although not with NatWest), I know staff are trained in how to sound professional, give the right information and remain polite at all times. It’s harder to define how much of their personality a call handler should show – in some circumstances, revealing a bit about your own life can build trust with the customer and help resolve the reason behind the call. However in other circumstances, such as in this case, a personal opinion can be in direct opposition to the image the company wishes to portray – although they aren’t actively pro-vegan, I suspect their staff guidelines don’t advocate punching anyone in the face.

NatWest pigs
NatWest pigs – credit William Warby

There’s no way you can police all staff at all times, but a good internal communications strategy could mitigate the chances of a situation like this by making sure that all staff are aware of the organisation’s values and views on how customers should be treated.

However, is there also a question about the PR of the vegan community? Although not an official movement, a quick look at Twitter shows the strength of the vegan community, with lots of people commenting in support of the person applying for the loan, as well as comparisons between veganism and other protected groups such as religions and races. If the perception of vegans more widely is that of drum-banging, pavement-chalking activists, do they need to do more to make themselves appear less confrontational and more tolerant of those who make a different lifestyle choice?

While arguably both sides need to engage in a little more positive PR, there’s no doubt that this incident will have cost NatWest’s reputation a lot more than an apology and almost £600 they gave to the customer.

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